APR 20, 2020 8:09 AM PDT

A Neuropsychiatric Crisis Might Follow COVID-19

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Infectious diseases can leave people near the brink of death, and that often comes with neuropsychiatric symptoms. A 2017 publication noted that any physician working in critical care knows that a systemic infection is often accompanied and complicated by delirium. Studies have suggested that viruses, including HIV and influenza can cause a wide variety of psychiatric disorders.

Researchers have now published a report in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity warning of the coming wave of neuropsychiatric disorders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is society under stress, which will undoubtedly create more problems for people already dealing with mental health issues, but a host of new challenges may be on the horizon for people recovering from infections.

Their report noted that we've learned from other pandemics that symptoms like psychosis, mood changes, or encephalopathy (a general term for brain damage or malfunction) can arise in patients that have or are recovering from acute viral infection. In some cases it may takes weeks or months for the symptoms to emerge, and the authors stressed that they are not trying to alarm anyone; they want to get help to patients during their recovery.

"Our article seeks to bring the medical community's attention to the need for monitoring and investigations to mitigate such outcomes, not to cause panic among individuals whose lives are already greatly affected by this pandemic," they wrote.

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

"COVID-19 is a significant psychological stressor, both for individuals and communities," said senior study author Suzi Hong, Ph.D., associate professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "There are fears of illness, death and uncertainty of the future. This pandemic is a potential source of direct and vicarious traumatization for everyone."

The authors added that society has not paid as much attention to the direct neurological effects the virus may be having. Respiratory pandemics in the 18th and 19th centuries were accompanied by a rise in anxiety, depression, delirium, insomnia, and suicidality. It's worth noting that it has not been established that the virus was responsible for these observations; it may have been caused by something else or been one of many influences that led to those outcomes. However, we know that viruses can invade the brain and may damage the central nervous system, including the brain. Studies have also shown that there is a link between influenza and encephalopathy. It has even been suggested that depression is a kind of infectious disease. It seems that viruses are respponsible for neurological symptoms in at least some patients.

"Reports are already surfacing of acute CNS-associated symptoms in individuals affected by COVID-19," said Hong, including greater incidence of stroke in severely infected patients in Wuhan, China, as well as delirium and the loss of the sense of smell and taste. A recent report in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology has shown that two to four weeks after the infection, those senses return.

Although we don't yet know how COVID-19 will impact a patient's mental health, those effects are likely to be significant and last for years, said the authors. The immune status of the neurological system and mental health of anyone that is recovering from the infection should be monitored, they added.

"We will need to do this at different points in their lives, for years to come, to fully appreciate this pandemic's effects on neuropsychiatric outcomes for differing age groups, and how to better prepare for pandemics to come," Hong said.


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of California - San Diego; Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 08, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 08, 2020
A Supercomputer Aids in the Hunt for COVID-19 Therapeutics
It is seeming more likely that COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, will impact many people.
MAR 10, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 10, 2020
Study Suggests 14-Day Quarantine for SARS-CoV-2 is Reasonable
The vast majority (97.5%) of people will develop symptoms of infection within 11.5 days of exposure to the virus.
APR 27, 2020
Microbiology
APR 27, 2020
CDC Adds to the List of COVID-19 Symptoms
The pandemic virus that causes COVID-19 has now infected nearly 3 million people, and killed over 200,000.
APR 28, 2020
Microbiology
APR 28, 2020
Communities of Microbes Can Form 'Memories'
Microbes can grow in tight clusters called biofilms. These communities are tough, and have some of the same properties a ...
MAY 10, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 10, 2020
RNA Structure Informs RNA Function
Proteins carry out many of an organism's critical functions, and they are coded for by genes. To make a protein from ...
MAY 23, 2020
Microbiology
MAY 23, 2020
The FDA Yanks Some COVID-19 Antibody Tests From the Market
The massive demand for diagnostic testing led the FDA to open a short window for many testing products to go to market w ...
Loading Comments...